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The Younger Woman

Why a husband’s decision to leave might be the best thing that could have happened

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 08/04/2011

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­­Dear Patti,
One night a year ago my husband of 30 years announced he’d fallen in love with another woman and was moving out. I later found out he was having an affair with a female coworker half his age.

At first I was in shock, but I really believed that after the initial excitement of being with someone younger, he’d realize they had nothing in common and their affair would end. For the past year we’ve been meeting monthly to have coffee or a drink together, and I’ve been waiting for him to come home.

Two days ago, he said he didn’t want to hurt me but that he wanted me to know he had filed for divorce. The shock and pain poured over me, because I finally realized John would never be coming back. He feels friendship, sorrow and pity but he doesn’t see me as someone he wants anymore.

How could I have been so naïve and foolish as to believe he’d leave an exciting younger woman for me? I feel so frumpy, old and washed up right now. I’d never hurt myself, but I wonder if I’ll ever want to really live again. The idea of starting over seems too big a task to tackle.
– Maggie

Dear Maggie,
You’ve been using denial to defend against the painful truth that John isn’t coming back. The chance for you to start a new life began when you refused to deny the reality any longer that your marriage is over. Feeling as if you’ve hit rock-bottom is sometimes what it takes to start rebuilding a completely new self. While the grief, pain and even rage might seem unbearable at first, they will eventually subside if you allow those feelings to wash over again and again. People who are unable to heal are those who refuse to face their loss and suppress their negative emotions through activities such as drinking, drugs and overworking.

Take care not to replace your denial with self-recrimination, self-judgment and self-hatred.

You probably aren’t naïve or foolish at all, just unwilling to accept a terrible situation. You’re also probably not frumpy, but if you are, that’s something you can change. This might be an excellent time to seek psychotherapy where you will get professional support.

I recommend a middle-of-the-road tact; instead of focusing on negative feelings at the exclusion of everything else, spend a substantial amount of time experiencing your emotions and doing meaningful, enjoyable things in the company of good friends.

There’s no easy way to give up a 30-year relation-ship. This will be hard for you to understand right now, but as you no longer focus on John and your relationship with him, this may become an exciting, freeing chapter of your life. You can focus on getting reacquainted with yourself and creating the kind of life you want.

What would make you feel beautiful and sexy again? How can you focus on becoming as healthy as you can possibly be? What passions and interests do you have that you’ve ignored? How do you want to live?

It’s hard to believe your husband left you so abruptly without devaluing you for a significant amount of time beforehand. Now’s the time to create a life minus such devaluing — from yourself and others. Saying that starting over feels too daunting suggests you might be getting depressed. A professional counselor can help you work on recognizing your true feelings. I know it’s hard to believe right now, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to look back and realize the divorce from John was the best thing that ever happened to you?

If you truly learn to acknowledge, love and listen to yourself, it’s possible.

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site: patticarmalt-vener.com.

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